Intelligence Community Whistleblowers

Rep. Adam Schiff confirmed on ABC’s This Week that the Ukraine call whistleblower will testify before a Congressional committee. Lawmakers plan to ensure the anonymity of the witness,  said the California Democrat, who is chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Adam Schiff

Now, we are taking all the precautions we can to make sure that …we allow that testimony to go forward in a way to protect the whistleblower’s identity. Because as you can imagine with the president issuing threats like we ought to treat these people who expose my wrongdoing as we used to treat traitors and spies and we used to execute traitors and spies, you can imagine the security concerns here.

Schiff also defended the whistleblower’s integrity and challenged those who say the complaint is based on hearsay.

Continue Reading

Can the Ukraine call whistleblower remain anonymous? And, who is obligated to protect his or her anonymity?

Two pieces this weekend explore those questions.

The Washington Post reports that the effort to identify the whistleblower has become “a fixation” on both social media and conservative news sites.

The looming battle over President Trump’s potential impeachment has sparked an online hunt in the far-right corners of the Web as self-styled Internet sleuths race to identify the anonymous person Trump has likened to a treasonous spy.

Their guesses have been scattershot, conspiratorial and often untethered from reality…


Continue Reading

The past day’s demonization of the intelligence community whistleblower has been harsh. But, not surprising. Whistleblowers always face blowback.

And calls for the whistleblower to come forward suggest a lack of understanding of the need for anonymity.

Tom Mueller is author of the forthcoming booAge of Fraud. He writes in Politico that

9/25 update: David Colapinto, general counsel of the National Whistleblower Center, spoke about the disputed intelligence community case on NPR and C-SPAN’s Washington Journal.

Click here for the NPR audio.  

“If you work in the intelligence community you must bring your concern to the inspector general before you can go to Congress,” he says. But an employee at Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, “can go right to [their] member of Congress or the committee that has jurisdiction over housing,” and report their concerns. “Those are two major differences, as we’re seeing play out,” Colapinto says.

Click here for C-SPAN  video.

(The case) is testing the system set up by Congress…It is a failure if they don’t transmit the complaint to congress. it would be the worst possible outcome to have a whistleblower who did everything right, obeyed the law, did not leak to the media, had the complaint verified, and not have it go where congress said it should go.


Whistleblowers from the intelligence community face a different set of rules than other government insiders. The information they have about wrongdoing may be classified. Protection may be limited. Congress should be involved.

David Colapinto, general counsel of  the National Whistleblower Center, explained this and more to The Washington Post  and The Atlantic. The stories were two in an ongoing flood of reporting about the decision by director of national intelligence to withhold details about the Ukraine whistleblower complaint from Congress.

Colapinto called this move unprecedented and said it could further erode trust in the intelligence community.

 “The system of whistleblowing will fail in the intelligence community if that complaint is not transmitted to Congress,” he said. “To have a whistleblower complaint verified as credible and urgent and not end up where it’s supposed to go would be the worst possible outcome. There would be a crisis in confidence in the intelligence community.”
Continue Reading

The New Yorker uses the publication of Edward Snowden’s new memoir as an opportunity to explore the state of whistleblowing. Jill Lepore offers this take on what it means that more insiders are coming forwards with evidence of wrongdoing.

Whistle-blowing is very often an upstanding act of courage, undertaken at great personal cost, and resulting in great public good. But the presence of a lot of whistle-blowing—an age of whistle-blowing—isn’t a sign of a thriving democracy or a healthy business world; it’s a sign of a weak democracy and a sick business world. When institutions are working well, either they don’t engage in misconduct or their internal mechanisms discover, thwart, and punish it. Democracies have checks and balances, including investigations, ethics committees, and elections. Businesses have regulations, compliance departments, and inspections. Whistle-blowing is necessary when these safeguards fail. But to celebrate whistle-blowing as anything other than a last resort is to give up on institutions.
Continue Reading

Melvin Goodwin makes that case on the lefty CounterPunch website. He notes that former FBI director Comey has been criticized for violating FBI guidelines.

He was pilloried for his handling of Hillary Clinton’s violations of security practices as secretary of state, and now for revealing Donald Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice.  Although Comey believed he

While working as a translator for the a British spy agency, Katherine Gun leaked a government memo to the press. In doing so, she violated the country’s Official Secrets Act. The memo detailed a request for damaging information the UK and US wanted to use as leverage with UN Security Council members reluctant to vote for the 2003 Iraq war. “Official Secrets,”a movie documenting the case, opens today. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Knightly said they looked to the film “All the President’s Men” for inspiration. It shows, in a good way. While one of the more tense moments in that Watergate film involves a confusing phone conversation, in this one, drama emerges from a spell check error.

Below find comment from some of the players and reviews of the film.

Katherine Gun recalls her reaction to the memo in a Q&A with Salon:

This was literally right before Colin Powell’s speech at the UN [alleging that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction]. I got an email on the 31st of January, it was a Friday. The email was basically forwarded down to a whole group of analysts, and that was approximately 100 people or so, and I happened to be one of them. So it was an email from a guy called Frank Koza, he was the head of regional targets at NSA. It was basically a request from the NSA to GCHQ, it just said, “We want all the information you can gather on the personal or the domestic or office communications of the six delegates that were sitting on the UN Security Council, the swing nations.”…They wanted any information on these diplomats, and it said specifically, this is a quote, “the whole gamut of information that would give U.S. policymakers an edge in achieving goals favorable to the U.S.” So I was just stunned by this, you know? I was appalled and I was shocked.


Continue Reading

Over at The Government Accountability Project, they use the upcoming film “Official Secrets” to talk about potential national security whistleblower missteps. The film, which opens at the end of August, tells the tale of British intelligence translator Katharine Gun. In 2003, she was charged under the Official Secrets Act for passing a memo to a reporter. She believed the note was from US spies asking for negative information on nations whose votes were needed for UN approval of the Iraq war.

Movies like this one demystify whistleblowing…Nonetheless, the Hollywood version of Gun’s whistleblower story contains a few key examples of risky choices that would have likely imperiled the success of a national security whistleblower, at least in the U.S.


Continue Reading

The Washington Post has been running a series of stories on problems with forensic science. Radley Balko, a Post opinion writer focusing on civil liberties and the criminal-justice system, explains.

In covering these issues, I have found that there are lots of people willing to talk about the problems with forensics in the courtroom. But

Whistleblower tales offer drama, intrigue, good guys and bad guys.  So, it’s no wonder Hollywood loves them. The web is filled with lists of whistleblower movies. They include classics like “On the Waterfront” and recent films like “The Post.” They range from documentaries to thrillers to based-on-a-true story bio pics.  Now, add a new one to the intelligence whistleblower genre.

This summer look for “Officials Secrets,” a feature film about British intelligence translator Katharine Gun. A dour, dressed-down Keira Knightley walks through a gauntlet of reporters and mics in the promo shot. The film premiered at the Sundance film festival in January.

From the Hollywood Reporter review:

While railing at TV news coverage of Tony Blair’s double-speak concerning his position on the George W. Bush government’s intention to invade Iraq in 2003, British intelligence translator Katharine Gun, played with the requisite impassioned principles by Keira Knightley, fumes, “Just because you’re the prime minister doesn’t mean you get to make up your own facts.”


Continue Reading